"It was a tale of two halves," Pierce said after Boston blew another lead down the stretch in a 102-96 loss to Atlanta at TD Garden on Monday night.
In fact, such a statement could be applied to each of the Hawks' three wins over the C's this season.
In a troubling pattern that has turned this budding rivalry into a one-sided affair in 2009-10, Boston has lost second-half leads in each of its meetings with Atlanta. The Green have outscored the Hawks 142-126 before intermission, only to get pasted after the break 166-125.
And on Monday, the Celtics blew a 14-point second-half advantage in the most painful of ways.
With the lead down to 10 points midway through the third quarter, Glen Davis was whistled for a questionable flagrant foul. Questionable, that is, to head coach Doc Rivers, who lost it on the sidelines and picked up two technical fouls and an ejection in a matter of seconds.
Assistant Coach Armond Hill picked up another for good measure, and by the time the Hawks were finished from the foul line, it was a six-point affair. After four more Celtics turnovers (they had 16 overall) and a 3-pointer by Atlanta's Jamal Crawford, it was a tie game before the quarter was through.
Sixteen measly points in the fourth for Boston spelled doom.
Explanations varied as to why the Celts keep collapsing against the Hawks. Ray Allen said the C's have "just beat ourselves" in each of the stretch runs. Atlanta players credit their defense. Rivers has pinned much of it on Crawford and Joe Johnson, for whom Boston has had no answer.
The tandem combined for 53 points Monday, 30 in Friday's win at Philips Arena and 42 in the Hawks' first win over Boston back on Nov. 7. That, however, only tells half the story — no pun intended.
Johnson and Crawford have amassed 86 of their 122 points against the Celtics after halftime. Amazingly, Crawford has all but four of his 53 points against Boston in the second half.
"They have two closers now," Rivers said. "They have Joe Johnson and now they have Crawford as well, so they have two closers. That makes it really tough, especially when we get in a one-point game with them. It's very difficult to get stops against guys that don't need a play to score. They just need the ball and go [into isolation]."
At times, Rajon Rondo defended Crawford, with Allen drawing the bulk of the assignment on Johnson. Pierce was put on Johnson late, but it mattered little. The pair combined for 18 points and three assists in the fourth quarter, Crawford scoring the game's final six points to seal it.
As Crawford said when asked what makes the Hawks so dangerous, "They couldn't really key in on one person."
Rivers indicated his team knows what it needs to do to beat the Hawks, but he did not divulge the details. With each meeting between the teams following the same painful pattern, it's safe to say we all know now.
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